Novelist Lynda La Plante’s new crime fighter is from Devon

PUBLISHED: 16:50 11 August 2020

Lynda La Plante has written over 150 hours of television and 33 crime novels. Photo: Gemma Day

Lynda La Plante has written over 150 hours of television and 33 crime novels. Photo: Gemma Day

©Gemma Day 2019

The Prime Suspect writer has created a new detective - and he comes from Totnes

“I’m giving a lecture to Cambridge University students and one raises his hand and says, ‘Excuse me were you in Rentaghost?’

As aggravating as a question like this must be to someone with such a prolific body of work, Lynda La Plante sees the humour in it, laughingly adding, “That question has haunted me all my life!”

It’s a nod to the fact that before we knew her as the prolific and successful writer and producer of today, she enjoyed a successful career as actress Lynda Marchal, including that appearance in Rentaghost.

Despite the grim and brutal murders Lynda covers in her work she laughs a lot. Well, it’s not really a laugh - it’s more of a combined giggle, gurgle and a burble and just recently on Thursday evenings during lockdown I’ve been joining her on Facebook Live along with hundreds of her fans for a ‘gin ’n’ tonic and chat with the author’ session.

“Would you ever go back to acting?” she is frequently asked.

“No, I wouldn’t,” she says without a moment’s hesitation. A shame, because after five minutes in her company telling you about her latest book, whatever it is, she has given you every character from an East End villain to fruit ’n’ veg trader to an upmarket tart!

I have had the pleasure of watching Lynda write and it’s like a speeded-up version of Who Do You Do? with Jon Culshaw and Ronni Ancona, except she is doing all the voices. Anyone overhearing her might be tempted to call for the men in white coats.

Over the last couple of years as well as giving us several best sellers she has been a regular visitor to Devon, more recently to an off-road centre for budding motorcyclists just outside Totnes. Not her latest hobby, although it wouldn’t surprise me to hear this, but that of her teenage son Lorcan, who, at the time of chatting, is ensconced in what she describes as, ‘His hovel at the top of the house!’ before proudly adding that he is making face masks for the NHS on his 3D printer.

She chose Devon, specifically Totnes, as the home of DC Jack Warr, the protagonist in her recent bestseller Buried.

Jack, she admits, is “Not a very good police officer. Not a top cop and he never will be. But I thought I don’t want to write another villain and I don’t want to write about a police officer who’s got marital, drugs, alcohol problems. I want to draw a character that you absolutely love. He’s very funny, he’s never where he’s supposed to be and he’s always on his mobile phone.”

Adopted as a four-year-old, Jack adores his parents and is madly in love with Maggie his girlfriend to the extent he bypasses his own career in Devon to move to London where he joins the Met Serious Crimes squad.

Here he gets involved in an unsolved crime involving Dolly and Harry Rawlins - characters readers of Widows and She’s Out will recognise. To complicate matters Jack’s life is turned upside down in the search for his birth father.

Read more: Crime writer Ann Cleeves sets her new series in North Devon .

It is going to make great television and this time Lynda is determined to avoid what she describes as the “debacle” surrounding the Prime Suspect prequel, which gave us the young Jane Tennison.“I had people who had never produced anything before, never cast anything turning down every single actor I wanted. The disrespect of everything I stood for in my life was thrown out of the door…I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

“The rage still bubbles up” she admits, “but I’ve learned to push it to one side now and never to let any co-production company to come in who have never produced any TV before. I will produce and I will find a company I like and can work with,” gleefully adding, “I already have everyone earmarked!”

Including, it seems for the character of Jack, the actor Alex Hassle who also reads the audio book. Jack Warr is someone we will see a lot more of but in the meantime, she returns to one of her favourite creations Jane Tennison for, no doubt her next bestseller, Blunt Force, about the murder of a top theatrical agent.

Given her past career I ask if she had any particular theatrical agent in mind and will the theatre world recognise him? “Oh I think so,” she adds archly with a laugh…and before I can ask more real life beckons. “My son’s just come in” she says, “and he wants to know” launching into her bored teenager voice: “Wot’s fer lunch and are we doin’ anythin today?”

I suspect she’d rather answer the question, “Were you in Rentaghost?’

Buried and Blunt Force are both available in Zaffre hardback, on ebook and audio.

Lynda’s top tips for budding writers:

1: Just write and keep going, you can go back and edit later. 

2: Do your research, if you are writing about a female prison, try and visit one.

3: If you get advice from someone on procedure, be it a social worker, barrister, fireman etc. write accurately and show respect to them.

4: Get a good lawyer to read any contract you are asked to sign, so that you fully understand what you are signing.

5: Try never to sign your character rights away, or if you do, make sure they revert to you one day.

Lynda’s favourite spots in Devon:

Wheeldon Off Road Centre: Halwell, Totnes.

Dartmoor: such rugged beauty, a good long walk will clear your head; it is there I can think about writing.

Clovelly: such a pretty village with beautiful cottages, but beware, there is a very steep walk down to the harbour.

Appledore: I went there for the book festival a few years ago and received such a warm and friendly welcome.

Bigbury-on-Sea: a lovely golden beach, and Burgh Island where Agatha Christie set And Then There Were None.

Hartland Point: dramatic coastline, crashing waves and a lighthouse. There is also Hartland village, which, memory serves, is a cracking cream tea spot.

Have you joined the Devon Life Facebook page yet?

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Devon Life